Greece - Hercules Pottery; Fall River, MA - Lizzie Borden House
When it comes to the Greek mythical figure Hercules, most people would say that they are very familiar with his courage, his muscular body, and his overall importance as an heroic figure. There is no doubt that Hercules fits perfectly with all of those qualities. However, his story goes deeper into the possibility of the beloved hero having a history of mental illness and violence. Hercules’ disturbing antics share very similar qualities to the local story dated back in the year 1892 of the Lizzie Borden axe murder case. Each was originally not known to cause any type of disturbances, thus presenting questions concerning their moments of insanity and what caused them to go insane.
In this image of pottery owned by the Fitchburg Art Museum, Hercules is in the midst of struggling to accomplish his second labor out of twelve: slaying the great Lernean Hydra. With the assistance of his nephew Iolaus, Hercules was eventually able to defeat the nine-headed beast, but what even brought him here in the first place? All fingers point right at Hera, the wife of Hercules’ father Zeus. Hera was constantly furious at her husband as he would frequently cheat on her with his several mistresses. To vent her frustrations, she would lash out and get revenge on them or on their children. One of the mistresses turned out to be the mortal woman Alcmene. Zeus was very attracted to her - so much so that he traveled down to earth, transformed himself into her husband, and seduced her. They eventually became the parents to a child named Hercules, who was half human, half god. After many failed attempts at trying to kill him as an infant, Hera sent down a madness on Hercules when he was older, making him kill his own wife and children. As punishment for the murders, he was assigned the twelve labors.
Several hundreds of years after Hercules’ time, the world was introduced to Lizzie Andrew Borden, who was born on July 19, 1860. Lizzie was the daughter of Sarah and Andrew Borden and grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts. After the death of her mother, Andrew remarried a woman named Abby, with whom Lizzie, as well as her sister Emma, did not want anything to do. On the morning of August 4, 1892, both Abby and Andrew Borden were found murdered from a “brutal hatchet attack” in their Fall River home. The case was a cause célèbre all across the United States, many speculating about Lizzie’s mental health, some thinking she lapsed into a moment of insanity when the murder occurred.
It’s very interesting how you can dig deep into a story and how many different connections you can discover. Although both Hercules and Lizzie Borden were overcome with insanity leading up to their murders, that insanity stemmed from different starting points. Hercules’ insanity was caused by Hera being a nuisance. As for Lizzie, her insanity was, according to some theories, fueled by jealousy and greed; the jealousy came from the feelings she had towards her stepmother, while the greed was always there because Lizzie was probably well aware that she and her sister would come into a sizable inheritance after their parents’ deaths. It seems as though, even with iconic figures such as Hercules, everyone has their own trigger and/or breaking point.
Carlisle, Marcia R. "What Made Lizzie Borden Kill?" American Heritage, vol. 43, no. 4, 1992, alistapart.com/article/writeliving.
“Lizzie Borden.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 27 Apr. 2017, www.biography.com/people/lizzie-borden-9219858.
Mark, Joshua J. “The Life of Hercules in Myth & Legend.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, 23 July 2013, https://www.ancient.eu/article/733/.
Museum Purchase, 2001.3